Hey gang. Sorry for the delay in posting this week’s new super-comics reviews; the Friday release day put this week’s haul smack dab in the middle of the non-comics blogging portion of my week. Thanks for your patience.
On the subject of what-gets-posted-when, look for two days’ worth of updates on Sunday, and the best of 2007 feature on Monday. Next week’s “Weekly Haul” will also be later than usual, due to the holiday and new comics not being released until freaking Friday, but should go up Friday evening rather than Saturday night.
Action Comics #860 (DC Comics) Superman, powerless under Earth’s red sun, runs around the year 3008, while we continue to meet Legionnaires. I think we’re up to 450 at this point. Plus, torture. I suppose this half-over “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” arc by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank will make for a decent trade collection some day, but for now, the only thing keeping me awake while reading is scrutinizing the costume designs. Night Girl’s is almost awesome, but the cleavage diamond window ruins the cute cat head effect. Shadow Lass has neat boots. Polar Boy looks too cool, considering the fact that he is Polar Boy.
(Note: There were two covers for this issue. I went for the one featuring the devil wearing a cape, boots and no pants. That's evil!)
Amazing Spider-Man #545 (Marvel Comics) As much as I hated the first two issues of this four-issue storyline, I had to come back for the final installment, just to see if Joe Quesada really would do what he’s been threatening all along, or if it’s all been a misinformation campaign. And, well, he does do it.
Here’s a plot summary: Mary Jane makes a rational, reasonable argument about the fact that old people tend to die, Peter Parker makes a selfish argument about how he doesn’t much mind his aged aunt dying so long as it’s not his fault, the devil shows up, Mary Jane negotiates a better deal (Throw in a secret identity reboot and you got yourself a deal!), there’s a Lost In Translation gag where she whispers something in the devil’s ear the readers can’t make out, and BAM! the franchise is right back where it was when John Romita Sr. was drawing it.
I know I’ve expressed admiration for Quesada’s insistence at undoing the Spider-marriage despite the fact that he’s the only person in the whole world who seems to think it’s the right course of action before, but the amount of wiggle room he and co-writer J. Michael Straczynski leave for a future de-re-boot kind of takes away from that (Yeah, co-writer. They share a “story” credit, and no one gets a script credit. Interesting).
The end result is that it somehow manages to make this terribly written, poorly illustrated, over-priced and delayed story even more insulting, since the highly controversial, permanent can rather easily be unchanged at the drop of a hat (And that’s the problem with this sort of cosmic storytelling; it’s like a loose thread on a sweater, as the state of the DC Universe after a few reboots too many now so readily attests).
Even more galling? Nothing really happens, except that thing that you thought was going to happen all along. How does this work? Mephisto won’t tell Peter because it’s not important. Okay, but can someone let us in on the secret? How does this change the course of recent Marvel history? I mean, the past few years were kind of important, and Spider-Man played major roles in things like Civil War—if he didn’t unmask during it anymore, then did he switch sides? And does Tony Stark even know his secret identity? Did he fight on the Pro- side at all? Did he wear his black costume? Did he beat up Kingpin and cry a lot? What?
There’s an epilogue showing us the post “One More Day”status quo, and apparently Peter lives with his aunt again, she has her old hairstyle back, he rides a bike, and he hangs out with all his old high school friends (all this to undo a marriage, but nobody could reboot Harry Osborn’s hair?) and everyone looks much more stiff and heavily photo-referenced than they did in the front of the book.
That’s the first 31 pages. What else do you get for that extra dollar, besides nine extra story pages? Three pages of Aunt May’s Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe entry (Surprisingly, she ranks a 1 in strength, speed, durability, energy projection and fighting skills, and only a 2 in intelligence; you sold your marriage for that, Spidey?), six pages reprinting the marriage of Peter and MJ, and a page of Marvel freelancers and employees (and Harlan Ellison) kissing JMS’ ass.
Brian Michael Bendis said, “I do believe this will be remembered as one of the great runs, not only of Spider-Man, but of all comics.” Yes, Will Eisner’s Spirit. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Dave Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus. JMS’ ASM. It’s particularly funny in that Bendis’ straight-faced crazy-ass compliment comes after a list of JMS’ accomplishments on the titles, many of which the preceding 33-pages just undid.
Kevin Feige, who is apparently the producer/president of Marvel Studios draws attention to the storyline in which Aunt May discovered Peter’s secret identity, just as Bendis did, which this story un-writes.
My favorite though is Mark Millar’s. He points out that JMS doubled sales on ASM (John Romita Jr. says he tripled them; which Marvel employee to believe?!), but even more amusingly, this: “Joe picking up the writing duties on Amazing Spider-Man was a seismic moment in modern comics. He, together with Daredevil writer Kevin Smith, showed Hollywood that far from slumming it in comic books.”
You know, I liked a lot of Kevin Smith’s movies; I think he’s a great writer of dialogue and I usually find something to like in everything he’s done, but c’mon, in Hollywood, he’s an extreme lightweight. His movies don’t make any serious money, he’s not a terribly talented or even skilled director, and he’s tried to make exactly one movie that doesn’t revolve around his Clerks cast, and it was his biggest failure, one which drove him to make more Clerks spin-offs.
And before he started work on ASM, JMS was a TV writer who’s greatest achievement* was Babylon fucking 5. All apologies to any Babylonians in the reading audiences, but that’s hardly a show representative of “Hollywood.” I have a hard time believing anyone in Hollywood picked up their copy of Comic Shop News one morning and spit cappuccino all over it, eyes bugging out of their head as they exclaimed to their maid, “Straczynski’s writing a funny book? But—but—he could be writing science-fiction television shows! Why would he give all that up just to write Spider-Man? Has he gone mad?”
I actually feel kind of bad for JMS at this point. I really enjoyed a lot of his run on the title, particularly at the beginning when he was working with JRJR. The addition of Aunt May into Peter’s confederacy, his job as a public school science teacher, that 9/11 issue, new villains…there was a lot to like (I didn’t read “Sins Past,” so I can’t hate on it properly, I’m afraid). From “The Other” on, however, the Spider-Man franchise has been in a nosedive in quality, and JMS goes out on the most sour note imaginable.
Avengers: The Initiative #8 (Marvel) Taskmaster replaces Gauntlet as Camp Hammond’s drill sergeant; Irredeemable Ant-Man Eric O’ Grady, fresh from his own cancelled title, joins the initiative and gets in a giant brawl with Yellowjacket and Stature; the 616 Geldoff is introduced** and Dan Slott and his new co-writer Christos N. Gage rewind things for a behind the scenes look at how Tony Stark, Mr. Fantastic and Hank Pym brought about the Initiative from the pages of Civil War. And it's good. I mean, geez, where else are you going to see Triathalon, Dragon Man, War Machine and Stature in the same comic book? Confidential to Reed and Tony: Me, I like the name “G.I. Ant-Man.” I mean, it’s a lot better than “Yellowjacket.” Yellowjackets are small, but Pym grows giant—what’s up with that?
Batman #672 (DC) So, you like this cover, in which Batman hangs a left on his Bat-Cycle? Well, I sure hope you didn’t buy this issue for all the motorcycle action, because there are no motorcycles in this comic at all. Instead, Bruce Wayne and his girlfriend Jezebel Jet parachute out of hot air balloon, that Bane-looking Batman who put a footprint on Batman’s back shows up, another Batman with a napalm gun sets police men on fire, and Bat-Mite has a dramatic entrance. A lot of potentially cool stuff to compose a cover image around, really. But Tony S. Daniel decided to go with generic image of Batman on a motorcycle, probably form his portfolio.
With that Ra’s al Ghul nonsense behind him, writer Grant Morrison gets back to the Batman versus different versions of Batman plot he’s been working on for most of his run, and he brings a lot of the Morrison-brand craziness. Hints of some kind of psychological experiment that is never more than alluded to, magic words, strange exclamations (“UDD!” “KKAA!!”) and Bat-Mite. Did I mention Bat-Mite?
It would all be terribly exciting if Daniel knew the first thing about drawing a comic book, but Morrison goes to print with the artist he has, not the artist he might have liked. So scenes which should be incredibly exciting just seem awkward, and I sit with the comic open in my lap, in stunned disbelief that the very best artist DC could find to work with Grant freaking Morrison is the guy who drew page seven, in which the placement of the dialogue bubbles and layout-suggest Wayne Manor’s kitchen is so big that the entire city of Gotham is actually inside it, and in which we also see Bruce Wayne lose about four inches of height between panels two and five.
I did like Daniel’s Bat-Mite on page 22, one the four one page splashes (There’s also a two-page splash with two smaller inset panels). It has so few panels per page it’s paced almost like manga. Or at least manga drawn by someone who’s never read any of it. Or any comic books. Or a fucking comic strip.
Still, Bat-Mite. You can’t go wrong when Bat-Mite’s involved, can you? Oh, right.
Blue Beetle (DC) This issue seems a bit worrying. The title of the story is "End Game." The story involves Blue Beetle finally getting to the bottom of The Reach's insidious plans for earth, in a one-page drawing room scene where he explains it to Danni Garrett (and the reader), and both BB and The Reach deciding it's time to finish their conflict. Is this writer John Rogers bringing the series-long conflict to a climax because it's time to move on to another big storyline, the next phase of his plans for the title? Or because it's time to finally cancel it, and DC's letting him finish up the story? (It's solicited at least through March, with the next few issues continuing what sounds like a climactic battle between Jamie and The Reach).
I found this particular issue to be a little weaker than the best Blue Beetles I've read, as it's less self-contained, but it is still solidly crafted, with a balance of drama, humor and action that is exactly what should be the gold standard for superhero comics. And damn, Jaime's parents are awesome.
The Brave and The Bold #9 (DC) Remember the first issue of this series, in which Mark Waid and George Perez told an absolutely perfect Batman/Green Lantern team-up? Or the last issue, wherein they did the same with The Flash family and The Doom Patrol? Well, this is a lot like that, save that it features not one, not two, but three team-ups, each pairing consisting of characters and teams that, if they were the only team-up in the issue, probably wouldn't have moved very many copies (There's a reason the original Brave and The Bold quickly became a Batman team-up title). So while The Challengers of The Unknown contend with the Book of Destiny as a framing device, we get the pre-52 Metal Men and Robby "Dial H For Hero” Reed, The Boy Commandos and Blackhawk during World War II (Attention Birds of Prey fans!), and the momentous*** meeting of Hawkman and the All-New Atom, Ryan Choi.
I can't think of anything new to say about how good Perez is, so I'm not going to bother. He draws about 100 characters in these 22 pages, and they all look great. I marvel at the fact that DC even lets Perez draw one of their books; it makes much of their line seem merely mediocre, and the sub-par stuff (this week, Daniel's Batman, for example) look like garbage.
It's Waid who really impressed the hell out of me this issue, though. Not only does he cram four different narratives into a single 22-page issue, but each of the done-in-1/3rd stories are complete unto themselves, with a beginning, middle and end, often with at least a bit of a twist or punchline (Tin and Robby share a secret, Brooklyn appreciates the Blackhawks after all, Hawkman creeps out The Atom). Waid also tells each of the tales in the manner befitting the times in which they originate. So the two stories featuring past properties are told without narration, but with the reader observing them from the outside. The Hawkman/Atom story, set in the modern DCU, is written with Choi narrating, as if it were from an issue of his regular series. Waid nails Choi's personality as his creator Gail Simone established it, although he actually does a much better job writing Choi than Simone's ever managed—Waid even works in Simone's insistence on using quotes at random, but without mis-using asterisks.
Fantastic Four: Isla De La Muerte (Marvel) It doesn't take much to get me to look at a Fantastic Four comic. Usually something as simple as an allusion to The Thing vs. Chupacabras, for example, or an image of Benjamin J. Grimm in kicky vacation gear, or even a creator not generally known for superheroes like, oh, say, Tom Beland, tackling the franchise. This over-sized one-shot has all that and more, so I was expecting it to at the very least be pretty interesting but, good God was I surprised at how good it actually was. This was probably the best book I read this new comic day, edging out even the technically amazing Brave and The Bold.
The story? Three days a year, The Thing disappears on a top-secret vacation, which his fellow Fantastic Four members know nothing about. The curiosity, of course, kills them, and Johnny persuades Sue to persuadet Reed to track him. They find him on a Puerto Rican island, where he gets an annual party in his honor due to his resemblance to a rocky orange fort that's long protected the island. When the other 3/4ths of the team track him and discover a weird energy signal, Ben gets to make like the fortress and protect the island, this time from an invading army of Chupacabras.
Beland gets the voices of the Four and their relationships to each other absolutely perfectly (well, Sue using slang threw me on two occasions...but otherwise!), digging genuinely deeply at a few points, like when Sue and Ben have a heart to heart, or at the emotionally mature and affecting ending. He also makes inventive, fun uses of their powers, in action, everyday and gag situations (I liked Sue's super-powered mute button on her little brother). It's really everything you could possibly want from an FF story, while managing to even slip a little education into the mix (Hell, I learned some history, science and Spanish—and I hate learning on New Comic Day!).
While I'd love to see what a Beland-illustrated FF comic would look like, this one is drawn by Juan Doe, which sounds an awful lot like an alias, but I’ll take his word for it. Doe's style is hard to describe, but it reminded me of Kyle Baker's in its ability to straddle cartooniness and serious within the same image...sometimes even the same character. Actually, I thought of Baker, Kaare Andrews and Tom Williams at different points while reading it.
It's just a really all-around gorgeous book. Paired with Beland's really well written story, it makes for great super-comics done right. I'd like to see more Marvel work from both of these guys. Pronto.
You can see several pages from the book here. And you can see some more of Doe's art here. That guy is great. Here's the cover for the Spanish version, which has one sweet logo:
Green Lantern #26 (DC) Guest-artist Mike McKone joins Geoff Johns for a cool-down arc after the "Sinestro Corps" event story. Based on his work on JSA, it seems Johns often does some of his best work in terms of character development in these between-big-story stories, and he does seem to be treating GL as a JSA-style team book, checking in with plenty of players here. Sinestro, apparently given back his pants for good behavior, has a heart to heart with Hal; John Stewart contemplates Cosmic Odyssey and helps rebuild Coast City, The City Without Fear; The Guardians carve up some Lanterns and shove power batteries into 'em and do their cryptic dialogue thing; there's some business with "The Lost Lanterns" which hardcore GL fans probably get a lot more out of then I do; and Hal abuses his power ring to make out with Cowgirl and make one wonder how dude even has a secret identity at this point. It's pretty much Johns' normal mixture of inspired DCU space opera oddity, ham-fisted stupidity and deep, intimate knowledge of his principal characters and their fictional histories.
McKone is a welcome fill-in for poor Ivan Reis, who spent the last few months drawing several million aliens into the backgrounds of his panels. I liked his work here quite a bit (although his Tomar-Tu, son of that Silver Age orange chicken lizard man Tomar-Re, looked a bit weird from the front), and would like to see him take on a DC monthly soon. Maybe something that's currently drawn terribly, like JLoA or Batman?
Hulk Vs. Fin Fang Foom #1 (Marvel) Oh Marvel, why do you have to play me like this? This sounds like it has the makings of a perfect comic book. As the title alludes, it's a fight comic featuring The Hulk and the old Kirby-created, Godzilla-sized Eastern Dragon in short pants Fin Fang Foom—guy's name is fun to read. And who's writing it? Why, Peter David, a guy who knows how to pound out a fun comic script, and knows a thing or two about writing good Hulk stories. The solicitation promises a "double-sized" one-shot, and the cover price of $3.99, a buck more than your average 22-page Marvel comic, practically guarantees it.
But in fact, all we get is 22 pages of Hulk vs. Fin Fang Foom. The rest of the book has some stats and character history on one page, and a reprint of the first Fin Fang Foom story, which Marvel just sold me last year as part of their Marvel monster month. I felt like I got ripped off after reading this (or rather, reading the parts I haven't already read), and the fact that it came out on the same day as Amazing Spider-Man, which pulled the same trick (to a lesser extent; at least that was 31 pages of new content for $4), only made it worse. Hmm, reading the solicitation again, I see not only does it say the book is "double-sized," it also neglects to mention any artists beyond cover artist Jim Cheung (like, seeing the name "Jack Kirby" there might have tipped me off I was paying for a reprint), and promises "classic slugfests from the past." That's slugfests, plural, but I got one classic, singular. The line between hyperbole and lying? Crossed.
As for the pages worth paying for, David opens with a neat boxing opening, recapping the characters' histories, which was pretty funny (“In the left corner—with the lime green skin…In the right corner, in a more avocado-green hue…Both Fighters will be wearing purple trunks. We apologize for the confusion.”). From there, we find The Hulk, back when his head was kinda square and his speech pattern was kinda brutish but not all caveman-like (I like it a little more caveman-like, to be honest), is wandering around the Arctic or the Antarctic (depending on the page in question). Reverting to Banner, he's found by some scientists, and brought into their lab. Meanwhile, one of their fellow scientists discover what they think is a new dinosaur, but we know (because we saw the cover) that it's actually Fin Fang Foom. A little The Thing homage-ing later (The story is entitled "The Fin From Outer Space”), the green goliaths fight. A little. Like, for five pages. And that's it. Not much of a conflict for a one-shot. Or $4.
Oh, and since Marvel won't tell you who the artist is, I guess I should. It's Jorge Lucas on pencils, and Robert Campanella on inks. Lucas captures the Kirby designs of the title characters perfectly well, while embedding them in a world that is populated with characters of his own design (He's not trying to draw like Kirby, beyond retaining the monsters' essential Kirby-osity). And there's one really great panel in which we see Fin Fang Foom's gigantic arms emerging from the ice, so big they seem to bend at the tips due to the tiny scientist's perspective. It's a neat trick.
But not worth $4 to see. I don't know; download it if you understand how to do that. Or read it in the store. Or pray to your heathen gods that Marvel releases a Best of Fin Fang Foom trade some day soon, and include this story in it.
Ultimate Spider-Man (Marvel) A major character dies in a story that gives the death and reaction to it shockingly short shrift. Especially when you consider this is a Brian Michael Bendis comic. That dude invented decompression! The big, two-Goblin fight, with Spidey and SHIELD getting between them, is handled well by both Bendis and Stuart "Will Be Consdered New For The Next Three Years" Immonen, and they do a fine job on the mourning pages of the issue too, but it seemed rather rushed through for what should be one of the series' biggest moments so far.
*Actually, I think The Real Ghost Busters andShe-Ra: Princess of Power were far superior to Babylon 5.
**As far as I know. Has anyone else made fun of Bendis’ Geldoff in the Marvel Universe proper like this before?
***Momentous for Atom and Hawkman fans, anyway. All 47 or ‘em.